Chapter IX: Crimson Red Vermilion


This color had a name. The command to kill had faded at the sight of it, replaced with that thought. In the split second that the word was bathed in red, it didn't bring the urge to throw up for once. Instead, a wave of nostalgia washed through his mind, and words from a long forgotten memory echoed. The memory was so old that he could not attach a face to the voice, only a name; “Father.”


Crimson Red Vermilion. That's the color of a demon, the voice in his memory said, faint like some half forgotten dream, The color of a person who's let themself become a demon without reservation. That was the name he had been groping for when he had named Akiha's hair color, Shiki realized in that detached part of his mind that observed such things, but he hadn't quite found it.


But the moment of reflection passed quickly as the world returned to living color--or mostly so, except the spiderweb lines and sickening 'points' which pervaded everyone, with the lines running through everything. His eyes strayed toward Akiha, but instinctively he couldn't allow them to do so until he had replaced his glasses.


By that time, however, the momentary lull in the battle had passed. The chain still wrapped pitilessly around her body, but something had changed. That was to say, the chain was now wrapped in a thick coating of vermilion hair. Not merely the loosely-clumped threads of before, this was more like a mane, a rope wrapping around the chain....


Before, the metal had not reacted at all to the way that her hair had attacked it, but now the clearing was filled with a horrendous creaking sound. In the several seconds that it persisted Gilgamesh and the silver-haired 'girl stared around the clearing in confusion, but Shiki had already realized the truth.


And soon after, they had to as well, when a simple motion of Akiha's arm was enough to shatter the supercooled chain into a thousand pieces. Her body was basically unchanged, though she was just a bit taller now, but the power that rolled off her as the mirage came back into existence was a frightening thing to behold indeed.


Gasping, though, her opponent recovered quickly, diving to reclaim the dagger from the ground and duck under the blazing eyes of the Demoness. Somehow, just by looking at her, Shiki realized that she had become that now; it wasn't something he could know logically, but just a deep, burning instinct that told him.


He remained frozen though, as her gaze searched for the other pokegirl, who had grabbed the dagger and now tried to get away. But even with the distance between them increasing rapidly, it wasn't enough. Not anymore. Akiha's eyes fixated upon the fleeing 'girl's arm, and suddenly it was bound by a torrent of vermilion strands.


This time, the flesh didn't just smolder. No, as the silver-haired girl screamed out and pulled away, it had seemed to literally catch fire. It couldn't have, but the effect was striking to look upon. From the way her posture shifted, she'd already completely lost the use of that arm.


“...still so ready to brag now?” The words were delivered with concept as Akiha's aqua gaze tracked the other, clear intent to kill in those eyes. It seemed that the other was out of range for the moment, but that didn't mean much; the tide of battle had obviously turned.


Even so, the other 'girl wasn't ready to surrender yet. She scowled, saying nothing as unseen eyes gauged the distance between them, she looked to the side. There were no lack of trees, but escaping into the canopy wouldn't do much good, or so she apparently decided.


Still, her speed was impressive as she dashed to the side, moving away just before the slowly-walking Akiha had come into range. Quick footwork sent her upward, and then one massive leap carried her skyward. In the same moment as she leapt, the dagger with what remaining chain it had was thrown as a projectile....


Of course, Akiha intercepted it as well, barely having to look at it now to stop it cold in the air and then let it fall away harmlessly. However, the gambit had bought her opponent time to finish the leap and now more air blades were thrown from behind. With how sparingly she had used those so far, they had to use a considerable amount of energy each, but now a whole flurry of them were launched.


“That won't work again.” Glowering, Akiha easily dodged to the side, weaving around the three consecutive waves of blades as she tested out the impressive speed her body had gained on evolution. And so, much as before she was rushing the other, but this time the result of that was very different


Last time she had been slower, charging an armed, prepared opponent, and trying to catch the other with her claws. This time, it was the deadly gaze of those aqua eyes that sought to catch its target, and that target had barely landed from her jump. “I'm tired of you throwing that damn chain at me, so I'll take your other arm first.”


Almost at the same moment these words were spoken, crimson strands attacked the 'girl's arm, wrapping it nearly in a cocoon that quickly caught 'fire,' and with another cry that arm went limp too. The vermilion hair vanished, and the 'girl turned, terror on her face as she tried to flee.


“And I don't like you running away, so I'll take your legs next.” The words were spoken with such hateful coldness that Shiki shuddered despite himself. His heart soared even so, to look upon this sudden complete reversal, not yet willing to really think about what it might entail.


But those words were followed up by exactly what they suggested, and the leather-clad girl tried desperately to pull away as the strong strands tripped her and then wrapped around her legs, which burned as well. It was a chilling sight, to see Akiha walking toward the fallen form with such slow deliberation....


Just before she reached it though, a recall beam shot past her, drawing the fallen 'girl back into her pokeball. Gilgamesh himself looked rather shaken as he surveyed the field. “...well, it seems you've won after all--”


Before he could finish the words, he froze; Akiha had turned, her aqua eyes no less murderous that before as she gazed at him. Indeed, as she took a step toward him, the other girl--obviously now, from the way she reacted, a pokegirl too--felt the need to interpose herself between the two, holding her hand out. “...stop there. You've won, so this is over.” Her voice was calm but commanding, and it was completely ignored.


Instead, giving no heed to the obvious preparation for a spell that she was undertaking, Akiha let her anger change targets. “...get out of the way. Your master started this, so he'll reap the whirlwind now.”


Looking on, Shiki found his elation quickly turning to dread. Right now, he just wanted to be away from this bastard. Killing him would only complicate their lives further, no matter how much he deserved it. “...Akiha,” he called out, uneasily.


“No, I won't stop. I can't stop. Stay back, Nii-san--I won't dirty your hands with this too.” What chilled him deeply was the fact that she wasn't just... inverting like before, at least not the same way. The deliberateness of this, of the way she spoke, the way she moved.... It was deeply frightening. She seemed terribly... sane, not just an almost-inverted monster like she had almost become before. Gods, this couldn't be Akiha. It couldn't be what she would be like now....


His expression was troubled and unhappy as he looked on, saying nothing else. Gilgamesh was glaring though. “ won, so back off. Just because you beat my Psinin doesn't mean you have any chance against an Archmage.” Despite the mortal peril facing him, he at least managed to keep his wits.


Akiha's eyes narrowed further. “Don't I? I just have to stop her from casting anything. That isn't so hard. It takes concentration to cast a spell, and you can't concentrate when your body is being slowly plundered of all its heat, but slow enough that you feel it like a thousand needles are being jabbed slowly into every inch of your body....”


As she spoke, she continued stepping forward, her eyes locked with those of the 'girl who was apparently an Archmage. By the time she finished though, it was too late to react; in a heartbeat, vermilion tendrils of hair materialized, catching the wrists and ankles of that 'girl and lifting her from her feet as she cried out in shock, her body suddenly floating in the air, stretched out as though it had been crucified, though they didn't seem to be stealing heat as they bound her.


“...I was lying, actually. I can't kill you that slowly, but if I hear so much as a spell word, you'll find out just how quickly I can. Now stay out of the way.” Saying this, she turned her gaze back to Gilgamesh, who had taken a few steps back with shock.


“Let it go. You won, so you'll have your favor; what more do you want from me? It's not as though I'm some lowlife who wouldn't pay his debts.”
“You said a favor? How about just shutting up and dying, then?” Sneering, Akiha started moving forward again; the human matched her step for step, staying out of range.


“What will killing me gain you?” he countered, red eyes narrowed. “You just want to live a peaceful life, so making enemies won't exactly help with that.”


“Who says I care about living a peaceful life? You're just a coward yourself, bargaining for your life.”


“...Akiha!” Shiki's uncertainty broke here as he rushed forward, pain blooming upon his young face from what she'd just said, “ you just don't care anymore?” If the words before had pierced his mind with glass, then these penetrated his heart just as sharply as that, leaving him feeling like some empty shell.


“...Nii-san...” For just a moment, she hesitated, her voice betraying a hint of uncertainty as she turned her eyes to her brother. “He was trying to hurt us. He has to die.”


Shiki looked away, unable to meet her eyes as she said that. He would've killed the man if he'd had to, to save them, but it was no longer necessary. This was wrong.


To his credit, although he'd taken a few more steps back, toward the foliage, Gilgamesh hadn't taken the opportunity to turn and run. No, his eyes were still upon her. “And how long will your peace last if you murder everyone who tries to hurt you? How long will it be until you murder your brother?”


“Shut up! You're just trying to save your sorry hide!” The coldness had started to crack a little bit as she turned back to glare at him, one hand shaking at her side.


“Who cares about him, Akiha? He's just a stupid bastard. I don't want you to become a murderer over someone like that,” Shiki murmured, managing to gather his courage again, moving closer until he could almost reach out and touch her. The rippling mirage of heat promised to burn his hand if he did that, though, and he hesitated.


“...why do you care? You killed for me, didn't you? What's the difference?”


Shiki couldn't answer; the words echoed things he had thought about in his mind many times of late. To say that it was because he was human was worse than meaningless; it would be to devalue Akiha's own life.


Finally, when he looked up and noticed she was staring questioningly at him, he knew he had to give her an answer no matter how much he didn't want to face that issue. But... there was one, at least. “Because... it's murder now. He's no threat to us now, Akiha.”


“...” Akiha's face shifted a little, unease entering it; the other human had fallen silent, watching the argument over what was effectively his fate impassively. “...fine. Fine, go then! Take your precious life and get out of my sight!”


Her voice had lifted from nothing to a high-pitched shout in an instant, and she released the Archmage who fell with a cry of surprised pain, then glared hatefully at the golden haired man, who, a little shakily, took another 'ball from his belt and recalled that second girl.


“...very well then. You really are a cruel woman, Akiha Tohno. But it's fine that way; some things are more beautiful because they can't be obtained. I still owe you your favor.” Dropping a golden-print business card with these words, he turned and walked away, not allowing himself to break into the run that his body had likely been commanding it to for some time until he was past the trees.


Watching him flee, Akiha seemed to shudder. Shiki reached out, despite the mirage of heat, to touch her shoulder, but before he could Akiha shoved him away from her. “No! Don't come near me, Nii-san! You were so convinced he was right, after all. I'll probably kill you, right?!”


Shouting this, she turned her murderous gaze to one of the trees on the edge of the clearing; in a split second, it was wrapped up in the vermilion coils of hair, and the bark withered then seemed to catch fire as the wood groaned under the sudden coldness. With a growl, Akiha smashed a balled fist into the trunk, shattering much of it with a resounding crash that echoed through the woods. As the tree began to keel over, she angrily wrapped it in more strands of hair, then with a mighty effort sent it toppling back into the forest instead.


In the aftermath of this second crash, Akiha stood there with hunched shoulders, her breathing the only sound left in the clearing and rather painfully loud. Shiki stared at her, his heart already aching from having been pushed away. Despite the energy she had just expended, though, her body was still wrapped in that frightening mirage.


Looking into the ominous rippling that it caused in the air, the words from the memory before flooded back again. A person who's let themself become a demon without reservation. But that thought was pushed away as he gathered his courage again and stepped forward to her.


Unable to speak again this close, with her presence seeming to tower over the clearing, dominating everything in it, the most he could do was draw near to her. Since she'd pushed away his touch before, this time he wrapped his arms around her, closing his eyes so he could ignore the mirage of heat since it had not burned him before, only felt exceptionally warm.


Feeling the contact of his body, she stiffened at first, obviously wanting to draw away. She was almost as tall as him now Shiki noticed in the detached part of his mind that always seemed to catch such unimportant details. But the rest of him was dedicated to holding her close, almost clinging to her; now he was the one frightened, not her. He needed to know that... she was still Akiha, not some murderous Demoness who had destroyed his sister....


“...Nii-san,” she breathed, and he winced, realizing--since he couldn't see her face--that he wasn't... the only one who was afraid of that. Slowly, her body sagged from its tension, shifting from the one being clung to to the one pressing into his. “I'm.... I'm scared....”


“Shh...” he managed to whisper, swallowing against the hollowness in his heart and making his voice sound as comforting as it could. “You didn't kill him....”


“But... it felt right to. It still feels right to. It's not like before, Nii-san.... Before I just saw red; that wasn't hard to... see as wrong. But that didn't feel wrong, or unreasonable, and... I'm scared....” She shuddered, repressing a sob as she pressed herself against him with abandon.


“You stopped though,” he murmured, tightening his embrace a little, feeling his body tremble with the emotion he was struggling to repress in turn so that he could give her this meager comfort.


“Not... not because I felt like it was wrong. Only because... I couldn't stand to see you looking at me like that. I... I can't live with myself if you're afraid of me.” Her voice was weak now, such a stark contrast to the coldness. “I... know this must be the inversion impulse, but what can I do when I can't tell right from wrong?”


“I'll... I'll always be here to stop you then,” he managed to say, swallowing hard as one hand reached around to touch her cheek. “I won't let you turn into a monster Akiha, and... I won't be afraid you then, so... so you don't have to worry so much.” The bravado was hollow, but he still clearly meant the words....


Coaxing her to turn, Shiki kissed her as tenderly as he could manage to his his body still so tense from all of it. When that kiss ended, he murmured quietly, “We'll be home soon, and then you... shouldn't have to fight like this anymore.... We'll be safe....”


With the morning sun still shining down them, the two ended up laying in the grass, arms tightly wrapped around each other. They both found some comfort in that embrace, for as long as they dared linger. When they returned to the mansion, Akiha's hair had turned black again, and the evolution had healed the wounds upon her arms.


They still showed the signs of the battle on their faces and in their--or at least Akiha's--clothing, but neither would explain to even Hisui. Those clothes, now associated with such a hateful memory, were cast into the garbage and the siblings shared a shower in silence, then dressed again.


After that, they ate a quiet lunch. The silence was broken in quiet bursts that slowly grew into some semblance of actual conversation. Neither one of them was able to really be cheerful, but the thought of going home at the very least lingered upon the horizon, a bright spot against all of the darkness that had threatened to pervade their life.


So, when the carriage came, they spoke only a little to the four tamers. None of the quartet seemed particularly interesting, at least in comparison to Suzaku and Lelouch previously. Still, this journey promised to be far less eventful. On the whole, this trip had proved to be far, far more exciting than either of them had bargained for.


Thankfully, the trip back was indeed calm, if a bit too slow. Still, the prospect of being home seemed appealing as they neared it, and by the third day, both of them had healed enough to be able to be happy again, at least a little bit.


Despite Akiha's fears, her evolution seemed to be something that she had under much tighter control now. Indeed, the only real change that Shiki noticed was that she had become more prone to teasing him, and that she had developed slightly fanged canines. Those were things he could bear, so long as she still remained the Akiha that he knew and cared so deeply for....






In the aftermath of the rushed trip back, being home again was almost... anticlimactic. Kohaku had welcomed them with her cheerful, happy smile, and the house had not changed much. Or, well, much being the keyword; it seemed that dust had accumulated in many places, and there had been some damage in those places it hadn’t, and only now did Shiki remember the warning he’d been given about the girl’s cleaning ability, or lack thereof.


But he wasn’t really angry, he found. Even though it was as Akiha had said--the adoption had apparently been finalized the very day they returned--and he was the head of the family now, after everything that had nearly happened, he couldn’t really care about a trivial thing like some property damages, especially since, after they spent the first day back recuperating, Akiha showed him what he needed to know about the family finances. They didn’t lack for money, so he couldn’t find it in his heart to be mad at Kohaku.


Even though he was officially head of the family, though, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the siblings to let Akiha handle the money for the most part, and make the legal decisions. She had, after all, been trained to do so, and he knew nothing of such matters himself. On the other hand though, there were other issues that they were not so ready to agree upon.


At the moment, having been back for two full days, the siblings were in the sitting room; Hisui was still occupied with the backed up cleaning, whilst Kohaku stood nearby to serve them their tea. “You must return to school soon, Nii-san. I will not be the reason that you do not complete your education,” Akiha was saying, with a serious expression.


Of course, Shiki’s own expression was rather serious in turn as he met her gaze with his own, drawing in a deep breath. This obviously wasn’t going to be an easy matter to resolve, but he needed to address it with her. “It’s not that I don’t want to go to school, but... I won’t go alone, Akiha. You’re far better at that stuff than I am, so I can’t feel right going to school if you aren’t too.”


She sighed, shaking her head slightly. “Nii-san, we’ve had this discussion already. I can’t go out like that--even... if I had magic enough to hide these, too,” the girl replied, opening her mouth to emphasize the obviousness of the fangs that her canines had elongated into, “I just... don’t trust myself around people. Not anymore.”


“Stop saying that. There’s no reason not to trust yourself,” her brother insisted, shaking his own head emphatically. “If you don’t want to go back to your old school, then come to mine. I know it’s not as good, but... I can’t be okay with just letting you stop going to school.”


Something in Akiha’s eyes changed at this, but it seemed almost closer to anger than to compliance as their gazes remained locked, sending waves of tension through the room. Indeed, it was only a timely intervention by Kohaku that prevented the matter from exploding into a full-fledged fight, “Akiha-sama, Shiki-san, why don’t you just hire a private tutor? That way you can both stay in school without going out.”


Shiki must’ve shown his relief at the suggestion by nodding a bit too quickly though, because Akiha tossed her head in annoyance; “Hmph. I guess I’ll think about it, but Nii-san needs to be more realistic. If you’re not going to go to school, at least go and pick up your schoolwork from the trip.”


Not giving him time for a response, she stood, her teacup in hand, and strode from the room.... When she was gone, Shiki sighed heavily. Was he deluding himself when he thought she hadn’t changed with her evolution? Or maybe this was just to be expected in the aftermath of something so traumatic as the end of their trip....


“Shiki-san.... You’re still pretty dense sometimes, aren’t you?” Kohaku’s pleasant voice cut through his musings with these rather direct words, causing him to look up at her in confusion.


“Huh? I guess I can be, but I get the feeling you don’t mean in general.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded rather moody, but at the moment he ignored that pointedly. He wasn’t really in the mood to be lectured.


Kohaku nodded to his assertion nonetheless, though, moving over and leaning down to refill his teacup. “You’re being selfish right now. You should be more gentle when talking to Akiha-sama.”


“...selfish? I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kohaku-san. But she needs to go to school at least as much as I do, or more. She shouldn’t have to give that up just because of a stupid threshold.”


“Well, I won’t say anymore, but as for myself, I still think you are a rather dense person.” Saying this with a smile, Kohaku moved to leaving the room, waving lightly; Shiki realized that she wasn’t going to come back for the moment. She would probably go and find Akiha....


Suddenly, that thought rather annoyed him, and he felt his hand start to tighten around the teacup; just before it would’ve broken, his mind cleared a little. What was he doing? If he broke the teacup in his hands, it would cut him. Then there would be blood.... In a sudden spasm of rage, he threw it to the floor instead, and the resounding crack of glass shattering managed to awaken his mind.


Looking down at the item he had so carelessly and meaninglessly smashed, Shiki shuddered and stood up. He needed to get out of the house, if he was doing crazy things like this. Yeah, he could just take Akiha’s suggestion and go get his schoolwork. It was something to do, and something outside the suffocating atmosphere that it felt like the mansion had in this moment.


After their trip, he had grown accustomed to dressing well and carrying a decent sum of money, and his knife never left his pocket anymore, so there was nothing really to do to get ready. Not bothering to tell anyone where he was going, even though he knew that would upset Hisui if she realized he was gone, Shiki set out from the mansion.


Since it was still early afternoon, the school would be open still, he knew. The thought of going there at all almost sickened him for some reason, but the unusual impulses he was having this day didn’t make any sense, and so he pushed that aside. His school shouldn’t have been such a bad place to go. And classes were still in session, so it shouldn’t entail running into anyone....


Of course, he should’ve known that the classes wouldn’t mean much in that regard. It wasn’t as though his only real friend at school had ever cared much about that.... And so, after picking up the papers, he was ambushed on his way out by a tall boy with dyed red hair and golden earrings. Of all the people in the school, he stood out the most, especially since he eschewed any school uniform.


And so, unable to escape, Shiki was forced to talk with this bothersome person. In the end, he found himself glad for the meeting; even though he had wanted to sever all his ties to his old life, in some regards, it was... nice to just talk, though he avoided any real discussion of his situation, despite the other’s prying. In this way, through complaints and playfully exchanged jabs, the two friends caught up on things, and it was, on the whole, pleasant.


Only at the end of their discussion did anything serious come up. “...oh, Tohno, I guess you didn’t hear, did you? One of the girls in our class ran away from home while you were gone.”


“...huh? Ran away from home?” Shiki blinked; it wouldn’t be surprising if one of them had thresholded, but his friend knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t much care about something like that. Besides, it wasn’t exactly running away from home.


“Yeah, it was Yumizuka.” The bombshell had been launched flawlessly; Shiki’s face darkened with shock and a touch of horror as he thought back to the day he had met the girl, Satsuki Yumizuka, on his way back from leaving school the last time before the trip--and what he promised.


“ mean the class idol?” Shiki struggled to keep his voice calm, not really wanting to admit how deeply the news had affected him. If she had run away, then... no doubt there had been something that she needed help with.


“Don’t play dumb, Tohno. You had her tell me you were leaving, so don’t act like you don’t know her or anything. But yeah, her. Everyone figures she thresholded and couldn’t deal with it, so she ran off, but it’s not like anyone would confirm that. I just thought she might know something; I bet she’d go and find you if that really was what happened.”


The words felt like as perfect a blow as the original news had been, but Shiki knew the other boy couldn’t know about that stupid promise she’d extracted from him. “ Why? I knew her, but we weren’t exactly close or anything.”


“Huh, I guess you really didn’t know then, huh? You might be pretty bright in class. Tohno, but you’ve got a lot to learn about reading a girl’s feelings.” The direct criticism was somehow easier to swallow that Kohaku’s smiling version of the same words before, but it was still annoying.


“Know what?” he demanded, therefore, his voice having a hint of anger in it.


“Hey, don’t get so defensive. We’ve all got our faults. But anyway, you really didn’t know Sacchin had a thing for you, huh?”




“Sacchin is Sacchin. No need to quibble over words, Tohno, so don’t ignore the point. That girl was pretty much head over heels for you since middle school. I figured you just weren’t interested.” The other boy shrugged, clearly not too concerned over the matter.


It would’ve been a lie to say he knew nothing of that, though, given that conversation they’d had weeks ago, but even so... Shiki didn’t know how to react to that. Before she’d told him that way, he’d barely noticed her existence as anything more than just another cute girl in his class. “Eh, I guess you’re right, then. I never had any idea. But if she was interested, she should’ve said something.”


“Harsh! Well, I guess she really wasn’t your type then, or you’re just not much of a traditional guy. Anyone else in our class would’ve been thrilled.”


“...yeah, well, I guess I’m just not a normal person, then. I’m a Tohno, so that’s no surprise. The Tohno family isn’t normal.” Shiki shrugged, trying to put up a wall of apathy against the words of his friend.


“Well, not like you’ll talk about that, so I dunno. I guess I’ll leave you alone, if you’re so moody, but promise you’ll at least come tell me if you’re leaving again.”


“...yeah, I promise. Thanks.” Some part of him wanted to apologize for being so moody, but he just... couldn’t bring himself to right now. Maybe it had been some premonition of this that had made the thought of coming to school so sickening. He wanted to be alone again.


With that thought in mind, he waved to his friend in a lackluster sort of way and walked off. Not really wanting to go back to the mansion, he wandered through the city at first, but the number of people just bothered him. One thing he did notice though, on passing a newspaper stand, was that the front-page story was about a serial killer.


Not really feeling like reading, he skimmed it mostly just for fear that... this was what had happened to Satsuki, but the victims had only started in the past week. The story was still chilling--it had the hallmarks of a vampire pokegirl, but they had found human blood that was not from the victims at the sites too, which was apparently still being analyzed--but ultimately he didn’t give it much more thought aside from noticing that it had started roughly around the day they had gotten back; there had been a victim every night for three nights so far.


After that though, little remained for him to do except returning to the mansion. Once he had passed the gates, though, and the fountain that was crystal-clear without the subset to dye it red yet, the thought of entering the actual doors made him blanch. Inside he would have to face an unhappy Hisui, a disapproving Kohaku, and a probably rightfully angry Akiha. Maybe the latter had the right to be angry, and the former certainly had the right to be upset with him for just leaving without any idea of when he would return.


With that prospect, though, he found himself unwilling to enter the doors in this moment. Feeling like a coward--which did little to help the already oppressive feelings that were looming over him--he instead went around, passing through the beautiful garden that he knew had to be Kohaku’s work. Perhaps she was bad at cleaning, but she seemed excellent at gardening. The Morning Glories in particular were beautiful, even with the onset of winter near at hand.


Passing beyond the flowers, though, he found himself looking out at the woods behind the mansion. They had played here often as a child, the three of them. He, Akiha, and Kohaku. Idly, his eyes lifted to the window from which Hisui had always watched them. The maids had changed little in eight years. “...huh, that’s weird. That window isn’t far from my old man’s room.”


Before he could really think about the significance of that though, a sound alerted him to the fact that he was not alone, and Shiki pressed himself against the wall instinctively, not really wanting to be seen. The precaution proved unnecessary, though; Kohaku, who had emerged from a hidden back door, didn’t even look around as she made a path out into the woods. The boy blinked, watching her.


Following her quietly, he knew he would look stupid when she turned around and noticed him. Surely she would, and yet he felt the desire to see what she was doing out in the woods. Amidst the coat of newly-fallen leaves that should’ve given his pursuit away easily, Kohaku stood out like a lone cherry petal in the collage of fall colors that was the forest. Shiki blinked again as she moved into a clearing that was slightly out of the way.


No, actually that was wrong; it wasn’t just out of the way, it was almost invisible unless you knew it was there. Looking at it, Shiki felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Surely they had played together there as children, and yet there was, at the same time, a contrasting feeling which said he had surely never been within that clearing before. Vexed by this, once Kohaku had stepped out beyond the clearing, he himself stepped out into it, looking around with his blue eyes. It wasn’t that big--far smaller than the one where they had been accosted by Gilgamesh in.


And yet, standing in the center of it, Shiki felt... that this place had borne witness to far greater crimes than the other. Looking up, he saw the bright summer sunshine but it was nearly winter. The familiar summer sun that he had seen so many times but he had always played in the shade. The trees around him, a memory older than the mansion itself but he had never been here before. The chirping of cicadas but the cicadas were all dead, their shells discarded.


Beneath the summer sunshine, looking down at the discarded cicada shells. The voice telling him that the vision was wrong was drowned out by the incessant chirping of the insects, one of the few natural animals remaining in such numbers. Their cries droned on and on, as pain lanced through the scar that was engraved upon his chest. Blood. Why was there blood? What was dying his sight red? His hands lifted to his chest, and came back drenched in crimson. In his head, a familiar and feared dizziness pooled.


As consciousness started to waver, Shiki struggled to pull himself away from the clearing, but the droning of the cicadas destroyed his concentration. Chiiirp. Eight years ago. Pain. This familiar pain/joy, this endless, endless joy. The pain of a wound/the joy of inflicting a wound/as a sharp pain, like a dull kitchen knife/with a bloody knife still in hand/being stabbed into his chest/having just been pulled from the victim's chest. His body falling away/the dead boy's body lay prone upon the forest floor liker a discarded cicada shell. Eight years ago, when he died/when he killed. Mind overcome with this torrent of frighteningly contradictory thoughts, Shiki crumpled to the ground as his anemia stole away consciousness.